In an effort to promote his budget and tax overhaul proposal, Gov. Paul LePage held his latest town hall meeting in Ellsworth on April 16, where he said nonprofits should have to pay taxes because he thinks “they should contribute to society.”
Having attended three of the six town hall meetings and reviewed summaries from other town hall meetings, I have noticed a trend of misinformation being communicated to the public. Most notable are the governor’s statements regarding nonprofits in the state of Maine.
During his town hall meeting in Saco last month, the governor said his proposal to tax nonprofits would not impact domestic violence shelters or summer camps. He elaborated that his proposal to tax nonprofits is directed at organizations with property over $1 million.
But this statement is in direct contrast to his budget proposal, which specifically states that municipalities would be required to tax nonprofits with property valuation over $500,000. At the town hall meeting in Ellsworth, the governor told the audience that there is a misconception about his proposed budget when it comes to revenue sharing. He said that he had not eliminated municipal revenue sharing from the budget; however, his budget document clearly proposes the elimination of municipal revenue sharing in the second year of the biennium.
The information the governor is delivering throughout the state is inconsistent with his budget proposal. The statements he has made about the nonprofit sector not contributing to society are inconsistent with earlier statements he has made praising nonprofits.
During his 2014 re-election campaign, for example, the governor stated in his response to the Maine Association of Nonprofits’ candidate questionnaire: “The work that nonprofits do in Maine is critical. These nonprofit organizations are comprised of amazing volunteers, supporters and staff that provide exceptional services and programs to the people of Maine.” He elaborated in a Jan. 20, 2015, letter to MANP in which he wrote, “Maine nonprofits provide invaluable services to communities throughout Maine,” adding that “hospitals, advocacy organizations, religious institutions and health and human services providers are just some of the nonprofits that advance the quality of life for Maine citizens.”
Statements made by the governor about an entire sector not paying their fair share or not contributing to society are concerning to say the least. It is important that the public be aware that these inconsistencies exist in the governor’s statements. One has to wonder, when the governor states that nonprofits are not contributing to society, is he referring to domestic violence shelters, mental health organizations and summer camps for children? Is he referring to museums, or libraries or historic land sites that enrich our communities? It is difficult to know.
To be clear, the Maine nonprofit sector comprises organizations such as veterans groups, domestic violence prevention programs, churches, museums, theaters, hospitals, economic development organizations, educational institutions, land trusts, social service agencies, environmental organizations and many others that not only play a significant economic role in Maine, but also enhance our quality of life.
Nonprofits play a critical role in Maine by ensuring that prosperous communities have a strong social fabric, supporting and enhancing their communities by opening their facilities to community members, and partnering with government to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable residents.
These kinds of partnerships have been forged around working together toward the common good. They are not merely contractual relationships. Additionally, Maine nonprofits contribute significantly to Maine’s economy. According to data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics and the Maine Department of Labor, the Maine nonprofit sector contributes 18.9 percent of the state’s gross product, employs more than 84,000 residents, pays more than $3.6 billion in wages that support families and businesses throughout Maine, and contributes over $10 billion to the Maine economy.
The governor’s statements not only unfairly categorize a valued sector but also disparage the 150,000 employees and volunteer board members who commit their time and talents to work that supports the values and ideals that Maine residents hold dear.
The Maine Association of Nonprofits would like to set the record straight and respectfully request that the governor consider the damage that statements like these can have on the public perception of Maine’s nonprofit sector, one that he also professes to value and admire.
Lori K. Gramlich, LMSW, is director of public policy and communications at the Maine Association of Nonprofits.